Have you felt a significant zap in your energy or mood? You may be SAD — literally. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as Seasonal Depression or “winter blues,” coincides with the shift in the seasons and it most commonly happens as autumn transitions into winter. During the autumn months is typically when people start to battle SAD.
While it might sound strange, it’s actually very common. Over 3-million people in the United States suffer from seasonal depression. With the exception of children under the age of 13, anyone is susceptible to seasonal depression.
Symptoms of Seasonal Depression
People start to see symptoms of SAD near the end of fall or early in the winter, but it can come any time as days grow shorter and colder. Symptoms include:
- Consistently depressed
- No longer interested in hobbies and activities
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Weight fluctuation
- Significant increase or loss of appetite
- Insatiable crave for carbs
- Increase in alcohol consumption
- Hopelessness, guilt, or feeling unworthy
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
If you feel down for several days, go see a doctor.
What Causes Seasonal Depression?
While the specific causes remain unknown, there are three factors that researchers believe play in part in why people experience seasonal depression:
- Because the days are shorter, we receive sunlight for a smaller window of time. That can cause serotonin levels to drop, which could knock your internal clock off balance.
- Melatonin levels impact our sleep and mood. These levels could be thrown off when seasons change.
- Similar to serotonin levels, your circadian rhythm can also be disrupted due to less sunlight and that can lead to feelings of sadness or depression.
Treatments for SAD
There are treatments available that may include medications, light therapy, and psychotherapy. Even if you don’t feel as if treatment is necessary, you don’t have to suffer through SAD until spring. There are steps you can take to feel better and elevate your mood.
Phototherapy or light therapy is a great option for treating seasonal depression. It involves sitting in front of a lamp that emits 10,000 lux of fluorescent light. The idea is that sitting 12-18 inches in front of the light will increase serotonin levels and, consequently, enhance your mood. Try this for at least 30 minutes a day and you could feel better within a week or two.
Bupropion is an FDA approved medication specifically formulated to treat SAD. This class of medication includes Aplenzin and Wellbutrin XL, which are great alternatives to other antidepressants (known as SSRIs) that could cause weight gain and decreased sex drive.
If you’re not sensitive to SSRIs, the following antidepressants may be ideal:
Seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist is another option for treating seasonal depression. Typically, you would learn skills like how to manage stress and negative thoughts as well as creating habits that cater to your mental and emotional health.
Vitamin D Supplement
Decreased sunlight means our bodies aren’t receiving as much vitamin D as we do during spring and summer. Taking a vitamin D supplement can help as can taking advantage of the moments where the sun is shining by going outside for a bit.
If you’re battling Seasonal Affective Disorder, you’re not alone. There are ways to overcome it. By following the suggestions presented in this article, you can return to a healthy and happy state of mind.